Head for the Hills: Amenities, attractions draw homebuyers to the mountains

A porch with a view.
A porch with a view.

By Kathy Dean

There’s a lot to love about living in the city, but everyone needs a change of scenery from time to time. Luckily for Atlanta residents, some of the most breathtaking scenery in the Southeast is just north of the city, in the foothills of the Appalachians.

“Mountain life is appealing because it has a low-key resort feel with lots of amenities and attractions,” said Nathan Fitts, Nathan Fitts & Team of REMAX Town & Country. “Blue Ridge is just 90 miles from downtown Atlanta, making it a great weekend escape for those looking to get a break from the hustle and bustle of the city.”

It’s a perfect fit for those who love the great outdoors, as there are 106,000 acres in the Chattahoochee National Forest offering horseback riding, whitewater rafting, tubing, zip lining, mountain biking trails and hiking trails – including the Benton MacKaye Trail and the beginning of the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain.

“Some of the best trout fishing waters on the East Coast are in Blue Ridge, which has been designated by the state as ‘The Trout Capital of Georgia,’” Fitts reported.

Late Petit at Big Canoe.
Late Petit at Big Canoe.

Local mountain trout is a popular dish in many of the region’s eateries, too. The historic downtown Blue Ridge area is full of upscale and specialty restaurants. Other favorite foods that visitors enjoy include barbeque, fried apple pies, biscuits and grits and sausage gravy. According to Fitts, the common element shared by area restaurateurs is a passion for the outdoorsy, earthy, fresh town, so it becomes a mixing bowl of town and country flavors that meld to create amazing eating choices.

“The mountains of north Georgia provide peace, beauty, solitude and outdoor recreation,” said June Slusser, CEO, Coldwell Banker High Country Realty. “Clean air, the night sky filled with stars and a lack of urban noise is what many city dwellers look for. What they find is even greater than their expectations – lively small downtowns, quaint shops, extraordinary restaurants, community theater, the arts and so much more.”

Among that ‘so much more’ is the ecotourism opportunities offered at orchards, farms and wineries. Festivals – such as Trout Fest, Wine and Jazz Fest, Big Green Egg Fest, Blues and BBQ, Arts in the Park and Apple Festival – fill the calendar.

Big windows and rustic design are popular with mountain homes.
Big windows and rustic design are popular with mountain homes.

Of course, visitors still ride the train – The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway – and walk along Main Street while browsing the antique shops, boutiques and galleries. They enjoy stopping for a bite at the cafes while drinking in the small town atmosphere and chatting with the friendly folks who pass by.

“Other big draws are the ever-growing Union County Farmer’s Market, as well as new wineries and wedding venues,” Slusser said. “There’s always a crowd heading to Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino in Murphy and more musical events are slated at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds in Hiawassee. Expanding and upgraded RV Parks bring in more campers, too.”

Highlands gives the Atlanta community a quick get-away spot with a short 2-2 ½ hour drive. Bill Gilmore, Provisional Broker, Highlands Cove Realty and Atlanta Realtor with PalmerHouse Properties, noted that the elevation offers a lower temperature of 10 to 15 degrees, and fresh air cleaned by the National Forests awakens the senses. Hikes and views appeal to everyone, with the most popular destination being Whiteside Mountain.

“Many Atlantans belong to one of the 12 private golf clubs or play the three public courses,” Gilmore said. “Visitors also love the variety of restaurants and shopping offered in both Highlands and Cashiers, and there are many events that add to special time spent in the mountains.”

Multiple levels for multiple views.
Multiple levels for multiple views.

He suggested stopping at local farmers’ markets that are open summer through fall to stock up on fresh fruit, local cheeses and produce from the region. Visitors should be sure to schedule time for the Highlands 10th Annual Culinary Weekend, Nov. 10-13, too.

“In October, many Atlanta residents come to see the shadow cast in the valley from Whiteside Mountain,” Gilmore said. “It’s called the Spirit Bear or Bear Shadow and appears just before sunset.”

One key to Big Canoe’s attraction is its proximity to Atlanta and the surrounding metro area. It’s only one hour from the high energy of the city, yet once a person passes through the gates and crosses over the covered bridge, they feel a million miles away.

“In today’s nonstop, fast-paced world, time is our most precious gift,” said Katie Wercholuk, Marketing Director, Big Canoe Company, LLC. “Big Canoe’s convenient yet secluded location means less time spent driving to a mountain retreat and more time spent breathing the clean mountain air, teeing off, casting a line, lounging lakeside, reading a favorite book and sharing moments worth remembering with the ones who matter most.”

Modern meets rustic.
Modern meets rustic.

Sixty percent of the population in Big Canoe, a vibrant, year-round mountain community, is made up of full-time residents. Many commute to work in Atlanta, since Georgia 400 and other major highways provide easy access.

“Big Canoe has the rare mix of community friendship, national park-like beauty and comfortable living with a full set of amenities,” Wercholuk explained. “This combination is uncommon and makes Big Canoe an ideal environment to raise a family, vacation or retire. We provide the sense of well-being and security that many Atlanta residents are after by being a private, gated community.”

Within its gates, Big Canoe offers over 20 miles of hiking trails, three waterfalls, three lakes, 2,600-plus families, 50-plus community clubs, 27 holes of golf and more. Resort-style amenities include a fitness center/spa, clubhouse, marina with electric boating and fishing, swim club, racquet club with tennis and pickleball courts, bocce ball, hiking and biking trails and golf. It has its own postal facility, trash/recycling center, water company, fire and rescue station, chapel and animal rescue.

The inflatable obstacle course on Lake Petit at Big Canoe is one of the many activities available.
The inflatable obstacle course on Lake Petit at Big Canoe is one of the many activities available.

“We’re also close to top area attractions in Blue Ridge, Dawsonville and Dahlonega,” said Wercholuk. “All of the charm of the north Georgia mountains are right at your fingertips when you live in Big Canoe.”

City dwellers are looking for fresh air, peace and quiet, and gorgeous mountain views, and Big Canoe has all that and more. Residents can choose to own a million-dollar mountain house with long-range views of the Atlanta skyline or a Southern Living inspired cottage with views of the golf course. There are many options, and that’s one of the best parts of living there.

For anyone interested in learning more, the exclusive Discovery Package is the ideal way to experience life as a Big Canoe resident. Extremely popular since it was launched in May of last year, it offers a 2-night/3-day stay in a beautiful, private mountain home for just $375. The package includes 18 holes of golf per couple, a $50 voucher towards dining at stunning Sconti Clubhouse, a private tour of the community and its diverse group of neighborhoods.

The view at Big Canoe.
The view at Big Canoe.

“We’re finding that city dwellers are becoming more adventure-seeking and are interested in an outdoor lifestyle, Wercholuk reported. “With our unique Jeep Trail, 22 miles of award-winning hiking/biking trails, three outdoor dog parks, three waterfalls, three lakes and scenic mountain landscapes, they have it all. In fact, we won the 2015 Bliss Award for Hiking Community of the Year from Real Estate Scorecard.”

Since neighborhoods with trails and locations that promote outdoor living are highly desired, one of Big Canoe’s most sought-after spots is Wildcat, a mountain ridge neighborhood with a private reserve. Nearly half of the 700-acre area is set aside for usable greenspace, including 12 miles of walking paths and trails. Home sites share spectacular views of the neighboring mountains, wildflower meadows and lush forests.

Wercholuk said that other frequent requests include a master bedroom on the main level, open floor plans, four-season rooms, such as covered screened porches with fireplaces and grilling areas, and long-range mountain views and water views.

A big fireplace makes this porch useable year-round.
A big fireplace makes this porch useable year-round.

Slusser agreed that log and cottage style homes on a lake or with long-range mountain views are in the greatest demand. Many homebuyers are seeking a home off the grid, as well as tiny homes. “Smart home technology is becoming a necessary feature for the out-of-town buyer,” she added. “Locks, security systems and thermostats that can all be controlled from a smart phone are increasingly important.”

Intown living is in big demand, too. She has a list of buyers looking to purchase a loft or cottage type dwelling within walking distance to the quaint downtown areas.

Gilmore has also noticed that intown living is popular. “It’s nice to put away the car and walk to town or the grocery store. Close proximity to town, spectacular views, and lakefront or golf community properties tick most of the boxes for location,” he said.

Cashiers has a new development in the construction phase which will be the first in-town eight-cottage community, just two blocks from the crossroads. Highlands’ new construction is increasing in-town and there are many resale homes and condos in the area at prices ranging from $300,000 to $6 million-plus.

Real estate has always been robust on the plateau, and the area is known for its expensive homes, so affordability is not something folks often look for, Gilmore stated. He quickly added that there are still homes and townhomes for every budget. Communities like Sapphire and Whispering Lake offer great values starting in the $300,000s. Many homes are sold fully furnished, allowing new residents to move right in and enjoy their mountain homes.

There are worse views to wake up to each morning.
There are worse views to wake up to each morning.

“Lots of homeowners can’t make it to the mountains every weekend, so they rent their homes using VRBO or one of the many rental management companies. It’s a great way to utilize your home and capture some funds for expenses,” he explained. “Clients in this area are typically very nice families that respect and care for others’ property.”

With all the interest in the Blue Ridge, some new developments have gained in popularity. The Heights at Cashes Valley offers elevated rustic living and is one of the most upscale communities in the area, according to Fitts.

“The prices per square foot in the community have yielded higher returns than anywhere in the county,” he said. “The homes are architecturally designed using many natural materials, including rough sawn wood, natural poplar bark siding, live edge siding, board and batten, cedar shake and lots of natural stone accents and columns.”

A few other Blue Ridge communities with new construction include Shepherds Ridge and Little Creek Overlook, located in the popular Aska Adventure Area. Necowa Cove is a community that offers lakefront living as well as properties with gorgeous panoramic views along miles of Lake Blue Ridge with layered mountains in the distance.

Down by the stream with comfy chairs and a fire pit.
Down by the stream with comfy chairs and a fire pit.

“For lake lovers and those who enjoy boating, water skiing, stand up paddle boarding and jet skiing, this community is perfect,” noted Fitts. The homes overlooking the lake are in the $400,000-$600,000 range and the lakefront homes range from $1 million to $1.5 million. Leading builders Big South Builders and Watkins Home Builders are responsible for many of the newly designed homes in the area.

Fitts added that the trend for Atlanta residents purchasing in the mountains has transitioned from the log cabin look to more of a modern rustic design. “This term in the north Georgia mountains simply means that the homes offer rustic charm and warmth with the modern amenities that most city folks are used to.”

Other requested design features are a wall of windows to take in the mountain or lake views, along with a fully stocked wet bar and fireplace to add to the ambiance. Also popular are finished basements with areas for entertaining, including media rooms, home theatres and game/billiard rooms typically equipped with pool tables, ping pong tables or shuffle boards.

“Most homebuyers want a spacious open floor plan because it’s family time when they’re in the mountains, especially when they’re here just for the weekend,” Fitts said. “Outdoor living space is key, so folks want lots of covered porches, decks and outdoor party porches featuring rock fireplaces, creating a spot that’s perfect for relaxing in the evening.”

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